We have been developing our Christian testimony as we have explored the testimony of the Apostle John recorded for us in the New Testament letter, 1 John.  This week we will be exploring John’s revelations about God through his writings in chapter 4 of that letter.

Now chapter 4 of John’s letter has probably one of the most often quoted phrases from the Bible.  John wrote, “Theos esti agape,” (theh'-os / es-tee' / ag-ah'-pay) which in English is simply, “God is love.”  The phrase, “God is love,” is a profound statement because it seems as though John is attempting to summarize God into a single word, love.  Think about yourself for a moment.  If someone were to ask you to summarize yourself into a single word, how would you do that?  What one word could be used to summarize the entirety of who you are?  Might we say of ourselves, I’m “nice.”  That’s it?  Perhaps nice does not do it and so we say “friendly,” or “kind,” or “loving.”  You see it is hard for us to describe ourselves in a single word, how then does John presume to define God in a single word? 

But this reduction of God to a single word or attribute is what many people do today.  They see John’s phrase, “God is love,” as the singular defining phrase for the entirety of God.  They want to write John’s expression that “God is love,” mathematically and so they take the phrase to be “God = Love,” and therefore, “Love = God.”  Meaning that anything that can be claimed to be formed by love is from God and that it must be blessed by God, ordained by God, and approved by God. 

Using this sort of reduction of God people come to all sorts of erroneous conclusions about God.  For example, people wrongly conclude that there is no hell because God is love and a loving God would not send someone to hell.  They wrongly conclude that any impulse natural to humanity relatable to love must be from God and therefore is permissible.  We know that “Love = God” is not true because John reminded us in his Gospel that, “19 Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  People love the cover of darkness to obscure their corrupt behaviors. 

John did not intend for God to be reduced God to a single word.  How do we know that to be the case?  Look at 1 John 1:5.  John wrote, “God is light.”  There is another single word descriptor for God.  Is John summarizing all of God to be a single word, light, or is John using these “God is” expressions to focus our minds on essential attributes about God one at a time?  I believe it is the latter because if we were to look at the “God is,” “Jesus is,” or “Spirit is” phrases we would see just from 1 John that:

  • God is love (4:8, 4:16)
  • God is light (1:5)
  • God is forever (2:17)
  • Jesus is faithful (1:9)
  • Jesus is the atoning sacrifice (2:2)
  • Jesus is righteous (2:29, 3:7)
  • Jesus is pure (3:3)
  • Jesus is sinless (3:5)
  • Jesus is the Christ (1:3, 2:1, 2:22, 3:16, 3:23, 4:2, 5:1, 5:6, 5:20)
  • The Spirit is Truth (5:6)

Looking at the “is” statements in all its various forms, it seems to me very clear that John, above all things, intended for this letter to remind his readers that “Jesus is Christ.”

          What does all this mean?  How then should we properly understand John’s statement that “God Is Love” and the impact that understanding has on our own testimony?  Fortunately, John has given us some much-needed help in his own letter.

          “God is love.”  To that phrase John added, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). John was sharing with us here that God, who is love, showed humanity what God’s love looks like when placed on full display.  “God is love” was shown to us in God’s sending his one and only Son into the world not to condemn the world but to give life to the world through his own Son.  John’s words here are profound for three reasons.

          First, that God is love and that love is expressed by God sending his one and only Son means that God’s love, God sending his own Son, is unique to God.  There is no human parallel to God’s love shown by God sending his Son into the world. Our ability and our capacity to express love, no matter how we might express love, are not on the same scale or plane as God’s expressed love.  John went further on this point when he said, “10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  This is how we can begin to measure God’s love, that God’s sent his only Son to die for us.  God’s love is unrepeatably and unparallel by anything we could do to express love.

          Now, having no ability to express God’s love the way God did might leave us with a sense of inadequacy.  But here is the key point, God is love, but God does not expect us to match his love.  Instead, God expects us to complete his love, if you will, to complement his love.  How are we to do that?

  • Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (4:11).
  • No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (4:12).
  • God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us (4:16b-17a).

God is love is uniquely expressed by God but the completion of that love, the complementing behavior for that love, occurs when we love one another.  As we talked last week, that love of one another means that we treat others, starting with those in the church, as brothers and sisters and we treat them without any form of hatred or indifference to their life’s struggles. Jesus made this point to his disciples when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). 

This is the first of the three reasons why the expression “God is love” is profound to our life.  “God is love” is a call for us to be responsive to God’s love by loving one another as Jesus loved his disciples.

          The second reason “God is love” is profound to us flows naturally from the first reason.  Namely, that God is love was and is uniquely by God’s Son, Jesus.  John wrote, “God loved us by sending his Son” (1 John 4:9 and 4:10).  God expressed his love by sending his own Son.  John quoted Jesus as saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). God’s Son, God’s expression of love, gave a command that our response to that love must be to love one another. What makes these two sentences profound is that they do allow us to visualize and then present God’s love in a simple form, a mathematical form if you will. 

“God is Love.”

“God = Love”

 Love = His Son, Jesus, therefore,

“God = His Son, Jesus.”

Jesus is God among us. It is understanding that God is Jesus and Jesus is God helps us to understand that we can and are in fellowship with God as we live out our lives imitating Jesus.  When we follow Jesus, we are doing exactly what God desires. There is no missing the mark by following Jesus and honoring Jesus as God because He is God.  What a relief!

          The third reason “God is love” is profound is that God is love, Jesus, serves a specific purpose; that is to give us life.  But God’s love is costly.  John made the point that Jesus’ through his death gives us life.

          You see, the inauguration of human life itself and the giving of life into eternity are acts of God’s love.  The inauguration of human life we read earlier was God’s decision.  Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).  God gave life to us and not just any life, but one that is in the image of God.

          To be made in the image of God means that we are without parallel in this world.  Yes, we can see the wonderful creativity of God in the natural world.  Yes, we are to be stewards of God’s creation but nothing, absolutely nothing in all of creation compares even remotely to human life. This is because only human life bears the image of God himself.  This is why the command from Jesus we spoke about earlier was not love the earth and all of God’s creatures.  The command from Jesus was to love one another because each of us bears the image of God.

          What does that mean to bear the image of God?  That is a whole sermon series on its own.  But what is important for the moment is to know that to be made in the image of God is to know that because of God’s love we, like God, are alive and eternal.  Each of us has a birth into natural life as a living breathing human being bearing the image of God.  And because God is love and that love was expressed by God sending his Son that we might live through him, our eternal life, the life of our soul can be forever with God.

          But here is the important point.  Each of us has had a birth into natural life.  To be born into an eternal life with God, we must be born a second time, born of the Spirit of God.  John recorded for us Jesus’ teaching on this matter.  Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:5-7). To be born again is to accept Jesus and have your sins removed.  In our tradition, we express this acceptance of Christ and this second birth by being immersed in baptism.

          That God is love is a profound statement for our testimony because through that phrase we know and are reminded that God’s love is made complete when we love one another.  God is love is made understandable in seeing that God is Jesus makes our life and destiny understandable and assured by following Jesus.  God is love mean life to us now in abundance and life eternally with God himself.  God is love is a blessing to our sense of wellbeing and adds power to our personal testimony.

          How then might we express our testimony.  Bringing our testimony statement forward from last week, our testimony now might sound something like:

“I am a Christian, meaning I know and have received God’s love through Jesus, God’s Son.  I know God’s love and that God is love because God sent Jesus to die on the cross to take away all my sins.  In accepting Jesus, I became God’s own child, and I am in fellowship with God.  This is love.  That love, God’s love, becomes complete when I live my life loving my brothers and sister like Jesus lived, offering comfort and compassion.  Sometimes I miss the mark and do not love like Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus forgives me, restores me to fellowship with God, and shows me how to reconcile with others.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

This could be our testimony, our way of expressing who Jesus is to us.  This week, we should be thinking about the phrase “God is love,” and be joyous that we can complete God’s love by loving others, that we can know the freedom that following Jesus is following God because Jesus is God, and that we have life now and eternally because God is love.

We can know and experience the phrase “God is love,” by participating in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper reminds of the extent of God’s love through Jesus as he gave comfort, compassion, and life to his disciples when Jesus gave of his body and blood.  Let’s prepare ourselves to be surround in the love of God.  Amen and Amen.